'Little women' like honey to their keeper

AS a boy, Norm Webb was fascinated by bees.

A lifetime later, the 67-year-old The Kings School teacher keeps his own hives, harvests his own honey and is the vice-president of the Amateur Apiarists Association's Parramatta branch.

"It's completely fascinating, the way these little women go about their business," Mr Webb said.

"The drones are all male and they don't collect honey and they don't sting.

"Another fascinating thing is the highly developed social order in every hive . . . 50,000 bees work as if they've got one brain."

Mr Webb took up beekeeping in the 1980s after a colleague encouraged him to take up the hobby.

Asked about the so-called colony collapse disorder reportedly decimating bee populations in Europe and the United States, he stressed the global significance of European honeybees as food pollinators.

"Some entomologists claim that if they die out, the world would run out of food within five years," he said.

"Fortunately we don't have it in Australia yet but it's a big problem all through the northern hemisphere, where a beekeeper can go to a hive and it will be OK then come back a month later and the bees are gone."

He said the condition is believed to be caused by pesticides called neonicotinoids.

"Bees have a fantastic navigational system, just like whales," he said. "They can come back to the same spot without deviation, but they reckon this is upsetting the bees' navigational abilities.

"They go out and collect their pollen then they can't find their way back to their hives."

He said one of the biggest threats is monoculture, growing a single crop over thousands of acres: "The more biodiverse our floral sources, the better."

Mr Webb and fellow association members will have natural honey for taste-testing and for sale at the Castle Hill Show at the weekend.

"We like to convince people that what you buy in the shop, is nothing like natural honey," he said.

"White box is vastly different to Lucerne, which is vastly different to Manuka."

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